Do you like Steve Earle? Were you able to see Steve Earle and the Dukes last night at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts but for some reason did not attend? If you considered it but decided to spend the night as a couch potato instead, go ahead and cry.
Let those tears flow 'cause you really did miss one of the best shows to hit the Valley this year.
Graciously, Earle and band the Dukes kicked off the two-hour set with Waylon Jennings' "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" -- a thoughtful way to say hello to Phoenix after a long time between visits while simultaneously paying tribute to the country legend who made his home here. Eleanor Whitmore didn't waste any time showing off her dynamite fiddle skills, cranking up an already excited audience a few more notches. From there, the band went into "The Low Highway," title track from the new full length.
Guitarist Chris Masterson, Whitmore's husband and partner in last night's opening act The Mastersons, moved over to the lap steel to enforce his versatility and smooth guitar mastery. Masterson has done time with a lot of greats, including Wayne Hancock, Hank Williams III, and Son Volt.
It was just before the fourth song, "Calico County," that Earle stopped and greeted the crowd. He seemed in great spirits, joking "With this next song I said you can pack this up and send it to Toby Keith so he can record it and I can get rich. Toby never called so I had to record the damn thing myself," as the band plowed into the rocker that is also featured on the new release.
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In fact, the band's set of more than 30 songs featured most of The Low Highway's tracks -- some nice highlights included "Invisible," a sad tune that can't help but force some reflection on what we forget to notice, "Burnin' it Down," a literally incendiary song that tells the story from the perspective of a man wanting to burn down the local Walmart for all the reasons you'd expect, and "Love's Gonna Blow My Way," a breathy, jazzy number which was featured in the second season of TV show Treme (about a New Orleans 'hood which includes Earle in its cast) as an unfinished piece of music.
Frankly, the whole night was a highlight. No real lulls or low points to be had. The longer the band played only seemed to create a longing from the audience to keep it going. The band's chemistry was well past comfortable; it was family. All the familiarity, respect, jokes and probably some of the madness that comes with siblings was prevalent in the spirited playing and the inherent knowledge of one another's moves. Always one to share the spotlight, Earle gave everyone extra opportunities to shine. Bassist Kelley Looney and Will Rigby (also of longtime jangly rockers the dB's) each took vocal duties as part of Earle's extended intro of the band.
Though Earle packed his conversational moments with lots of humor, the always political crooner brought important issues to the table through both talk and songs like "City of Immigrants" and "This City," a hard hitter played on a guitar with the words "THIS MACHINE FLOATS" painted on its body -- the guitar his character on Treme plays. Speaking of guitars, I may have never seen so many guitars at one show, both at the ready and the constant change-ups that flowed easily with the show's well-orchestrated ballet.
The crowd went crazy for favorites like "Copperhead Road," "Guitar Town," and "Hard Core Troubadour." A real gem was one of Earle's duet moments, singing "You're Still Standing There" with Eleanor Whitmore, a song he originally sang with Lucinda Williams. Whitmore's angelic twang, full of delicate urgency, hit tear-inspiring ranges and blended gently into Earle's rougher edges. Like the rest of the night -- a giant twist of country, rock, folk, blues, truth and the soul of all that is both righteous and painful about life -- goddamned glorious.
Set List: Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way The Low Highway 21st Century Blues Calico County Taneytown Hard Core Troubadour I Thought You Should Know That All You Got? Love's Gonna Blow My Way After Mardi Gras Pocket Full of Rain This City Ben McCulloch You're Still Standing There Invisible Burnin' It Down Someday Guitar Town Copperhead Road Ricky Skaggs Tonight/ Free Men Warren Hellman's Banjo Little Emperor Billie and Bonnie Mystery Train Part II Galway Girl Down the Road Part II Down the Road
First Encore: I'm Still in Love with You City of Immigrants Rag Mama Rag
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Second Encore: Devil's Right Hand Nothin' But You Continental Trailways Blues The Revolution Starts Now